Counting what counts

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we define success in our performing arts industry. At the forefront it may seem like a simple answer of whether or not your organization is fulfilling its mission. However, what tools and measurements are we using in order to see if mission fulfillment is actually taking place? Too often, we measure our mission with market-driven metrics that are rooted in economic growth and butts in seats. We count the success of a show based on it’s box office gross, our educational programs on how many youth participated in it, our development on how efficiently we met our fundraising goals.

Yet, there’s so much more benefit to the arts than our economic well-being. What draws people to the arts is not the hope that the experience will make them smarter or more self-disciplined. Instead, it is the expectation that encountering a work of art can be a rewarding experience, one that offers them pleasure and emotional stimulation and meaning.

How can we, as arts leaders, quantify those effects that are inherent in the arts experience itself?

We are very comfortable talking with audience members about their experience of the art, but are, by and large, deeply uncomfortable with the idea of translating that experience into something numeric. There’s a fear that by tracking some amount of the artistic experience an individual has through graphs and charts, we are somehow reducing that experience to something “less than.” We have a tendency to be overly protective in the U.S. nonprofit arts sector because we know, or at least suspect in our gut, that if we start measuring intrinsic impact—testing our assumptions about the impact of the art we make— we might uncover there is greater intrinsic impact from watching an episode of This Is Us than going to any kind of live theatre. Or we may find that small-scale productions in bars or coffee shops are just as impactful (or more so) than large-scale professional productions in traditional theatre spaces. Are we prepared, if we find this sort of evidence, to change the way we behave in light of it?

Knowledge provides us with power. Knowing what our audiences are valuing opens the door for us to confirm, to distill, to imagine, to change, depending on who we are and what we hear. Furthermore, if we are able to translate qualitative data, such as audience testimonials, critic’s reviews, survey comments into measurable data it allows us to determine rates of change.  In order to reap the benefits of that knowledge I conducted research to learn what types of value frameworks for arts assessment exist.

Kevin F. McCarthy, et al. shares in Gift of the Muse six intrinsic values that range from the individual to societal.

Intrinsic Values Chart- McCarthy

Alan Brown, in grappling with Gifts of the Muse, developed this graphic (see below), to articulate the impact of an arts experience not only on ephemeral level, but also from individual to public, which he called the “Value System for Arts Experience.”

ABrown Value Framework

Kim Dunphy offers a method of representing evaluation findings across three elements of change: perspectives of change (who perceived and experienced the change); dimensions of change (what type of change occurred); and degree of change (how much change occurred), to arrive at an overall assessment of project outcomes. Dunphy offers six categories for the model seen below.

Dunphy Holistic Value Framework

These six categories are then divided into seven subsets, which cover the major types of change that might be expected from the arts experience in each area. Users can choose which ones are a best fit for their particular needs. The subsets can then be posed as questions along with a likert scale to gain a numeric representation. For example in the Social domain a question such as, “How much were your eyes opened to an idea or point of view you hadn’t considered before?” is reflective of social bridging.

What’s the takeaway? 

Not only does it enable us to curate our programming based on the types of impact our audiences are craving. But it enables us to nurture their well-being and ability to critically reflect upon their experience. Thereby creating alignment between the artist and our audience. Because we are developing a language for feedback based on values rather than box office net & dollars contributed.  Additionally, it allow us to strategically think about what type of programming we are planning so that we aim to represent a holistic approach (in that there’s a little something for everyone) or we can focus our energies on pursuing a specified selection intrinsic impact. Overall, it provides us with the knowledge and metrics to be counting what counts in defining our success.

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Impact investing: How can the arts claim a seat at the table

Chairs at a table, all blue with one redImpact investing is a fast-developing area of interest for investors and philanthropists. There are numerous definitions of impact investing, but a generally accepted description is “investing for both financial and social return.” Put another way, impact investing is “making money while influencing positive change.” According to Kristi Combs, Managing Director of wealth advisory firm Greycourt, in her article for Corporate Finance Review, “More than just a trend: The importance of impact investing,” impact investing draws its inspiration from earlier trends such as socially responsible investing (SRI), a well-defined framework for choosing investments based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria, sustainable investing, community development, and microfinance.

How does impact investment differ from traditional investing or philanthropy?

As this Forbes explainer video shows, impact investment “combines both the rigorous analytics of traditional investment and the heart of philanthropy.”

Impact Investment explained Video

Impact investing has matured in the past decade. There is now an abundance of projects in clean water, education and low-income housing, but growth in arts investing has been slow. The arts sector still relies on traditional philanthropy models for raising the necessary contributed income to support their missions. Charitable giving in the United States has historically been about $390 billion per year. In contrast, there is $80 trillion in assets under management, of which almost 50 percent resides in North America. The World Economic Forum has projected impact investing to grow to over $500 billion in 2020.

Graph of philanthropic dollars vs invested dollars

Yet we, in the art sector, have yet to provide the tools, strategies and tactics for impact investors to align their capital with arts and culture. Currently JP Morgan and the Global Impact Investing Network report, Impact Investments: An Emerging Asset Class, does not track arts and culture as a segment of impact investments. 

In looking to uncover why this is the case, I discovered its due to our challenging metrics. Evan Beard, national art services executive at U.S. Trust, a private bank for high net-worth individual explains, “There are metrics to say how many people got clean water or how many were cured of malaria. [Whereas,] the arts by their nature are intangible, and so their results are intangible.” 

Why should we, as arts leaders, advocate for impact investing for the arts?

Researchers and policymakers have come to recognize creativity as one of the most important drivers of sustainable growth, economic development, and innovation in the world today. A growing body of evidence points to the increasing advantage that the “creative class” and the “creative economy” are necessary for success in today’s knowledge-based society.

“To our thinking, creativity fuels every successful human enterprise.  Creativity, to form something new and valuable based upon a different perspective, is essential for economic development and capital formation.” – Erika Karp

Sharon Percy Rockefeller has stated,Art is the conscience of a nation.” And there is no better time than now to put this capacity to work. There are compelling reasons to consider “creativity and the arts” as an investment segment, in its own right. Cornerstone’s Head of Research and Corporate Governance, John Wilson, lays out the case for investing in the “creative economy” as one way to counter the negative effects of widening income and wealth inequality, and the opportunity gaps that have resulted from the knowledge-based economy. Laura Callanan, a founding partner of the New York City based field-building organization Upstart Co-Lab, cites creative enterprises as “an on-ramp to wealth-building for entrepreneurs including women, people of color and others who benefit from lower barriers to entry to a sector of the economy more interested in merit than advanced degrees and pedigrees.”

Since the Co-Lab’s founding in 2015 it has helped increase interest in impact investing in the arts because “we learned how to talk about this and frame it,” said Callanan. Upstart Co-Lab, a collaboration connecting artists, impact investors and social entrepreneurs to create opportunities for artist innovators to deliver social impact at scale, outlines three reasons why impact investors may want to consider investing in the creative economy for financial and social impact: to gain portfolio diversification; as a new way to achieve social return related to key priorities like climate change and community development; and to harness the projected growth of the creative economy to build an inclusive, equitable and sustainable future.

There’s an effort underway to create a chair at the table for the creativity and the arts. Upstart Co-Lab’s team states to be working with the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund and Opportunity Finance Network to separate the creative industry’s information in future reporting and surveying, while also trying to raise the arts-as-investment profile with the likes of J.P. Morgan Private Bank and Goldman Sachs’s Imprint Capital.

What are some ways impact investing are being implemented in the arts sector field today?

Upstart Co-Lab is not alone in pioneering the way forward. There is a rising tide of organizations working to facilitate the interaction between investors and arts organizations that create a social and financial return, both in the US and abroad. Examples include the Arts Impact Fund in the UK and Exponential Creativity Ventures based in New York City. Funded projects include initiatives such as Roots Studio, and artFix.

Roots Studio digitizes traditional Indian art from rural communities into an online library for licensing. The organization aims to preserve the culture and reclaim authorship for rural tribes. Through investments from Exponential Creativity Ventures the organization is able to provide a 500% profit return above the status quo to the artist per license.  

In the UK, artFix is a combination cafe, co-working space, learning center and pop up venue where you go to make your project happen. Activities hosted include art classes, film-screenings, capoeira and yoga. Between 2017-2019, over half of its events its events and workshops have been either free or less than £5 to attend. Beyond making everyday arts accessible, artFix is also about creating inclusive and participatory spaces that engage local communities and give voice to vulnerable social groups through collaborative programming and community arts projects.

With artFix’s work being recognized by the local council, as well as property developers interested in building communities within their residential sites, a number of expansion opportunities arose for the business. Capital was needed to fund the start-up costs of potential new sites and manage cash flow for the first few months of trading. After scrutinizing the business viability of the existing site and financial projections, the Arts Impact Fund offered a loan of £200,000 to expand into two new sites. Additionally, the Arts Impact Fund was integral to creating a framework with artFix to measure their social impact over the lifetime of the investment.  In this way, the business will be better able to articulate the value that it brings to both corporate and community stakeholders. 

What’s next?

These funded initiatives are ultimately investments in creative people. Creative entrepreneurs are launching and growing great companies that are good enough to attract investors who only care about profit. But as true social entrepreneurs, creatives want to attract impact investors who share their values and will help to growth these companies – and the creative economy as a whole — to be more inclusive, equitable and sustainable. The impact investing sector concluded a long time ago that intention and purpose count when it comes to determining if an investment is having an impact.

 There is still a lot of education needed to help investors and funders better understand the creative sector and develop formal tools to facilitate their investments. A few conversations we can begin to have with our constituents to bring the arts out of the kitchen and into a seat at the table:

  • Art collectors and art patrons can insist on information about opportunities to invest in creative places and businesses to their wealth providers rather than simply in the form of Picasso paintings.
  • Foundations can pave the way for impact investing in the creative economy—as they already have for the environment and low- income communities—by being first-mover investors. 
  • Endowed cultural institutions (e.g. museums, performing arts centers, fine art schools, performing arts conservatories, artist-endowed foundations) can demonstrate some enlightened self-interest by aligning their investment portfolios to drive impact through the creative economy.

The concept of a powerful creative economy challenges artists and creatives alike to serves as an outlet to reframe our role in society, to see ourselves as leaders and drivers of this new world order, instead of being a vital and necessary drain on limited resources. 

Let’s work together to disrupt the status quo of public subsidy and donation-dependency among arts-related businesses, embrace market-driven strategies and demonstrate inclusion in the art sector and create cross-sector partnerships prioritized by the impact investing community. Let’s harness our role as advocators of the cultural vitality that is transforming our local communities and driving sustainability throughout the nation and around the world. After all, we are stronger when we work together.

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Sticky giving: Building your tribe

Chances are, if you are reading this blog, I don’t have to convince you how much contributed income is a vital component to a non-profit arts organization’s survival in our rapidly, evolving world. The good news is that we are not alone in knowing that importance: our donors know it too.

In fact, according to 2018 Charitable Giving Statistics, the Arts, Culture and Humanities saw an increase of 8.7% to $19.51 billion in charitable giving from 2017. Across the board, this upwards trend is fueled by individual giving.

Image Source

According to What Americans Say About the Arts in 2018 Report 81% believe the Arts are a “positive experience in the world,” 73% believe the Arts give them “pure pleasure to experience and participate in,” 69% believe the Arts “lift me beyond everyday experiences.” With experiences leading the charge to why Americans invest in the Arts, are we as leaders in the Arts, taking into consideration how to shape the giving experience? Are we instilling donor loyalty? Let’s take some time to get to know what our donors value, communicate based on their behaviors, provide updates on how their impact is helping our organizations thrive and celebrate the generosity in order to grow and deepen our community.

The resulting goal is to have donors contributions become “sticky”. Granted, the technical term is “renewable” but “sticky” has far better imagery of creating relationships and gifts that stick with our organizations each year. If we look at giving from the donor’s perspective, we can naturally understand when a gift becomes meaningful. What sticks with us is not the sole act of giving, but when we know our giving made a difference, when it becomes a part of our heads and our hearts.

The average donor retention rate was 45.5%, as reported by the 2018 Fundraising Effectiveness Report, which means less than half of all donors who supported an organization did so again. Why might donors be leaving? Or just as important; why did donors give in the first place? Was it due to a recent program they attended? Or perhaps they received a call to action in the mail?  Perhaps a friend reached out and asked them to give or something specific happened in their life.

Upon meeting and interacting with donors it’s important to develop authentic relationships; let’s get to know them beyond the dollars they share with us. Too often we begin conversations by promoting our organization’s upcoming programming to spearhead the interaction and create donor excitement.  Whereas, Michael Kaiser suggests spending the first conversation with donors listening to their interests and then aligning those interests to projects that are planned over the course of the next five years. Not sure how to get started? Nonprofit consultant Simone Joyaux offers close to two dozen questions to begin a conversation that leads to deciphering the values and beliefs of our donors.

An additional approach to seeking out ways to create sticky giving is through Abila’s Donor Loyalty Study in which 1,136 donors in the U.S. were surveyed to better understand donor behavior and what drives donor loyalty. Insights of the study can be viewed by clicking on this video.

Today’s donors expect organizations to communicate in timely, relevant, and personal ways. We can use the word “you” a thousand times in a direct mail piece and still miss the mark if it’s not information a donor cares about, or if it’s presented in a format that doesn’t match their preferred communication channel. For example, build a sticky email by using the actions or engagements of the donor and personal demographic information by segmenting based on gift level, or any other engagement metric.

Image Source

Additionally, In this age of content bombardment, people want content that is concise and simple. From there, if their interest is sparked in a topic, they may want to go deeper and seek out long-form content. But, primarily, they want what communications to be quick and easy. Delving deeper into the Donor Loyalty Survey reveals the top four preferable content types of donors to be:

  • Short, self-contained email with no links (75 percent)
  • Short letter or online article (73 percent)
  • An email with links to other articles (65 percent)
  • Short YouTube video (60 percent)

When looking to deepen donor relationships, research suggests that we should start by taking a close look into how our donor’s are currently spending their time with us. Lynne Wester, The Donor Guru, believes organization’s need to prioritize making each donor feel special for each act of generosity rather than the amount of the gift. She advocates for focusing communication by where donors give and how donors give; creating messages that are geared toward donor behavior. What makes them special? Donors don’t want to hear about everything we do equally, they want to hear what they make possible.

Donors don’t just want to be asked for money; they expect you to follow up and tell them exactly how you used that money. 56% of donors are most likely to give repeatedly to an organization if they receive regular communication about the work the organization is doing and the impact of their donation according to the 2018 Giving Trends Report.

By sharing stories of the impact of their current giving we can inspire future giving. It’s not just about “the ask,” it’s also about “the tell.” Haley Bodine offers several insightful ways to share donor impact.

  • Use social media to regularly post real impact stories
  • Dedicate a portion of your website to communicate donor impact
  • Utilize impact metrics and stories in letter and email communications

By amplifying the existing support, we continue to cultivate a donor experience that represents how much their support helps make a difference.  For example, Nothing But Nets tells donors that a small donation of $10 will buy a bed net to protect someone from malaria. This shows donors the tangible results that just a few dollars can achieve; motivating them to keep contributing. Annual impact reports such as the ones Inner City Arts shares their website builds credibility in the minds of the donor. The benefit of such communication is a continued effort to cultivate and inspire donors to continue partnering and investing with you in the future.

Every donor can have a donor journey with our organizations and it’s up to us as Arts Leaders and Development Professionals to recognize their giving and reward the practice. Ultimately, it boils down to respect. By respecting our donors enough to get to get to know them as people and appreciate them we can begin to create meaningful connections between our donors and our work that brings them closer to our mission and thereby creates a stronger sense of engagement. By giving gratitude and sharing impact we can make sticky connections with our donors and in turn they will become advocates to others about our organization. After all, we all like to share what makes us feel good and how we can make a difference.

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Pass me my shield please.

“We can rebuild the entire system around passion instead of fear.” ~ Seth Godin

Because if we want a better education system that doesn’t dictate from atop an ivory tower, we must build it ourselves, we must be ready for battle, we must be revolutionary.

The research is there, we’ve seen that carrots and sticks don’t work. So why do we keep relying on rote memorization and obedience as markers of learning? How do we speak truth to power? Or perhaps more importantly, how can we encourage students to speak truth to power, when as educators, we are often seen as the power in the room?

Palmer recommends we strive to seek an “academic culture that invites student to find their voices about the program itself”, which in turn creates opportunities for support from faculty and staff. However, I don’t quite buy in to the call-and-response way of building culture. I strive to understand and recognize ways we are interconnected.  We must work together to create the kind of world we know is possible. We can stand up and with one another even in battles that are not our own; laying a foundation for brave spaces. Demonstrate warriorship and the courage required to speak out against the status quo, to have unpopular views, and to break silence in pursuit of positive cultural transformation. Be willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations and make mistakes with one another, rather than avoid difficult topics.

We need to entrust our students with these messy problems and encourage them to speak about the ways and means learning is a choice and a pursuit to gain greater participation and be a better human in our society.

“Our task is to learn how to build smart rooms—that is, how to build networks that make us smarter” ~ David Weinberger

For myself, smart rooms and networks must remain rooted in empathy and compassion for others. My hope is to plant seeds of leadership and grit in to the classroom so that students will feel empowered through knowledge and training.

Posted in Contemporary Pedagogy | 11 Comments

Critical Pedagogy and What it Means to Us

This post is collective effort on behalf of Corrie Besse, Matt BlairMinh Duong, Kyunghee KimCindy Klimaitis, and Samuel Sherry

Critical pedagogy is a life-long, balanced, and transformative approach to teaching that nurtures understanding by integrating one’s passions with curiosity in an ever evolving, and challenging environment – both in the context of what is being taught, where it comes from, and how it is applied.

Above is our attempt at defining the undefinable. To us, critical pedagogy is our definition, and can be seen in the interplay between the words in our word cloud, but we also acknowledge that in actuality it is much more. We believe that fundamentally, critical pedagogy resides in the intersection of theory and practice and finds meaning in creating an environment that promotes understanding in education. Paulo’s assertion that you cannot teach without learning nor learn without teaching resonates with our understanding of critical pedagogy, in that we (as people, educators, learners, experts, novices) never stop learning or having things to teach and offer. Fostering a growth mindset is a facet of life-long learning, not only do we want to cultivate our students to remain open to the power of possibility, we as educators must also remain steadfast in always looking for ways in which we can be learning.

The fluidity of critical pedagogy, and its ubiquitous nature in our daily lives, contributes to the difficulty in defining it. We view its application as ever evolving to meet the needs of a changing and developing environment – whether in society, the classroom, the home, or the overarching framework of education. Here we believe that the ability to challenge – our ideas, conventions, paths of communicates, and structure for disseminating knowledge – can lead to a situation that fosters curiosity in our passions and lead to student driven learning.

The question is how? How can or does critical pedagogy manifest itself in our studies, classrooms, and professions?  How do we transform the intellectually stifling practices engrained in education into something much more effective and inclusive? To explore this concept further we looked at ways critical pedagogy manifests itself in our fields of practice.

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Cindy
The components of the critical pedagogy definition have direct application to my field.  As a future ‘teacher of teachers” the life-long learner component applies to the research part of the position.  Educators need to stay up to date on the latest research to know implementation of best practices and current social justices issues that need to be considered in the classroom environment.

Knowing the students will help the professor with a balance of giving and getting – how much students need to get (build a knowledge base) and how much giving (giving time for students’ curiosity to allow for their own knowledge search).  The key to critical pedagogy is balance and that balance is based on the individual in the classroom. Balance is fluid and ever changing.

The 1st minute provides a visual for how working together benefits the group and each individual, just click on the image to view.


Food Science & Technology, Minh 
This week we discussed this week two extremes of how teaching can be accomplished: were “problem-posing” and “banking”. With banking, the student simply draws upon what is required by the teacher where usually the teacher provide information for students to consume and this information becomes regurgitated at the appropriate time (very similar to this Calvin and Hobbes comic below — excuse the potato quality.)

Problem-posing is sort of the opposite side of that spectrum that emphasizes critical thinking that involves listening, dialogue, and action through a positive learning atmosphere. A very well known example of this atmosphere is the Montessori method.

Food Science and Technology (FST) leans on the “banking” side of things currently, but needs to transition and move towards more of the problem posing mindset. Learning the information on a specific microorganism and its characteristics that cause foodborne illness is useful, but understanding the system and how the microorganism fits into that system is important.

We do a great job in Food Science of addressing the “what”, “who”, and “when”, all specific details, but struggle with the “why” and the “how”. As an educator in Food Science, I endeavor to bring in learning and teaching that involves experiences that help students think outside-the-box and develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the “why” and “how”.


Engineering, Samuel & Matt
When I think of critical pedagogy in the field of engineering I think of the sharing my love/passion for the subject and a Socratic approach to learning.  If you present your passion for a subject this shows in a big way, it makes the students more excited/ peaks their interest about the material. In my mind this sets the wheels in motion, from the small material I covered, to the student/class probing larger topics. Ideally this could be done in the class room with me facilitating or individually when they want to go above and beyond the basics. The concept of critical thinking and asking why are the principles upon which engineering were built on.  I hope this approach to teaching fosters a love of life-long learning and critical thinking.


Landscape Architecture, Kyunghee
I believe the core value of critical pedagogy is applicable in the field of landscape architecture as engagement and sustainability have been big words in the education and practice of landscape architecture. From the perspective of critical pedagogy, educators are responsible to engage in social, environmental, and political issues around the built and natural environments, and empower communities as well as students to be an agent of creating, implementing and operating their living spaces. Many students in the design field tend to focus on aesthetic/functional aspects, not being interested in social and environmental issues much, as I did when I was in undergraduate. I think that in order to prepare students to be a critically conscious landscape designer/planner it might be important for educators to closely engage in their needs/situation and inspire them to transform their motivations for social/environmental justice and ethics.


Arts Leadership, Corrie
As leaders in the arts we need to have an understanding of not only ourselves, but also how we present ourselves to others. In a critical pedagogical context, it’s important that as we move forward that there must be a sense of balance between these inner and exterior frameworks of self. When we lose sight of one over another, burnout or hollow-out or the loss of creativity can take hold.

Once we have that balance we can contextualize ourselves within a framework of how we connect and create meaningful relationships to our organizations, communities and society. Personally, I strive to provide a platform for the arts to help society see what they might not, to connect them to what is invisible to them in their daily lives.  Art does not exist in a vacuum, rather it needs to look critically at the needs and desires of our community in order to make an impact of greater inter-cultural understanding and social responsibility.


As we engage in our respective fields of practice we strive to balance the needs of our classroom and the mindset of our community in order to impact our living spaces, our organizations, and our institutions in order to empower our students to develop their own voices and what impact they want to see valued in the societies of tomorrow.  Critical Pedagogy provides a framework for that exploration while remaining cognizant of of our culture and ourselves within it.



Posted in Contemporary Pedagogy | 19 Comments

Fostering Community in the Classroom

The current shifts in the cultural sector toward social and racial equity have resulted in policy changes, developments in institutional language, funding structures, and a social momentum aimed at addressing inequality and systems of oppression. But these changes are not happening in a vacuum. We are in a moment of the resurgence of activism in the United States through groups like #Blacklivesmatter, DREAMERs, and the renaissance of activism happening on college campuses.

I am reminded of Kara Walker’s Sugar Sphinx “Subtlety”, this work that was so brilliantly critiquing racism. It was literally a monument —a giant sphinx with the head of “mammy,” naked and exposed, made entirely of sugar and molasses in the old Domino sugar factory in gentrifying Brooklyn. It was pushing the needle of commentary on the history of slavery as it related to the sugar trade and the vulnerability of black women’s bodies and on and on. Yet, I found myself in a room full of people with art history degrees who said it was perfectly valid for people to pose in sexually suggestive poses with it, lick it, and post it to Instagram. It was like they had no idea of the racist history Walker was engaging or how contemporary audiences were complicit in it.

As an arts administrator, I have sought out a variety of frameworks for thinking across cultural differences in order to foster a community of inclusion and engagement. While much of this research has been aimed at audience development and I feel in no-way that I have yet grasped an expertise in these areas. I have aimed to create a practice of approaching this work with an incisive mind, open heart and fearless gratitude when thinking of the challenges and extreme polarities we as a society are facing today. In the readings for this week I realized to what degree this research can also have impact in the classroom and I hope to bring these practices with me into the classroom.

A reading which was particularly inspiring was From Safe to Brave Spaces by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens for the ways it helped foster dialogue through reframing ground rules I have read and often felt put more onus on long time silenced and marginalized voices had to continue to interpret what was being expressed by those that herald more privilege. It provided me with language tools I can instill into classrooms that continue to focus on finding and expressing authenticity through respect, civility, and owning your intentions, as well as your impact.

John C Maxwell notes that “Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.” Statements uplifted such as these too often place unrealistic expectations on instructors and leaders to offer “answers”.  Instead I seek to offer complications, make gestures, and pose questions that lead to a more complex understanding of how inclusion should be carried out in cultural institutions and classrooms. This dialogue is rooted in the belief that this conversation is part of a continuum, and we are merely presenting a moment in that continuum.

We make better decisions when we approach our problems and challenges with questions (“What if we…?”) and curiosity. When we allow space for play, curiosity, and creative thinking; it’s imperative to also value listening to, and holding each other up, particularly the voices of those who are affected by systems of oppression. We can then take comfort in the fact that no single one of us knows everything, but together we hold immense knowledge, immense creativity, and immense potential.

Posted in Contemporary Pedagogy | 9 Comments

The hows and the whys of learning

Two concepts rose to the surface in this this week’s reading on learning; how we learn and why we learn. When one is taught the process behind a skill they are learning the how. Whereas, when one seeks the reasons behind that particular process they seek to know the why.

Langer writes that “when we first learn a skill, we necessarily attend to each individual step” and the ways in which her process of learning differs around baking a cheesecake each year continues to bring delicious results. Additionally, many of our readings last week surrounding digital learning as well as Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think explores the paradigm shift of how access to information in our digital age has changed the process of how one learns. We are shifting from a place that sets computers and humans as opposites to a place where they are collaborating in order to “help us work, mediate and create.” Knowing the how helps create sustainability.

Keeping one on it toes, the why is ever-evolving.  It incorporates the context found in oneself as well as the respective environment and to what degree that context affects one’s process.  Sir Ken expresses teaching goes beyond delivering information, teachers must also “mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage” to ensure that any real learning taking place. Real learning takes place when one has a curious mindset, when  we desire to look beyond the steps of the process and the how something took place and discover the why it took place. Knowing the why helps create adaptability.

I need to be mindful of both the how and why when creating a platform of learning for students. Being new to teaching, I aim to have a better understanding of ways to cultivate that environment and am open to hearing suggestions for developing these best practices.


Posted in Contemporary Pedagogy | 10 Comments

Building confidence through learning… and failing

Currently I am an MFA Candidate in my first-year studying Arts Leadership through the Performing Arts Department. One of the benefits of this program is the ability to take electives that are offered throughout the school and I chose this course as I wanted the opportunity to explore and build better teaching practices. Prior to my enrollment here at Virginia Tech I had an opportunity to co-teach a course, and in doing so, it re-invigorated my own craving to learn. In this course I hope to have a better understanding of what styles and skillsets I can achieve by learning more about how to teach. With so many formats and tools available to the teachers of today; how can I utilize them to help spark curiosity and foster a sense of empowerment to the students of today.

In our F2F discussion on Wednesday we discussed some of the real challenges around ethics and privacy of Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Canvas. In all honesty, while I have accessed Canvas’ analytics tools and spreadsheets and found it’s helpful to have the option to consider how much a student may be working inside the course’s online content, however I believe it to be an additional factor, rather than a deciding factor. To me, more clicks does not equal more learning. Rather, it’s another way I can assess impact of the course. Did the student take the time to try and find an answer on their own before they reach out to send a direct email to their inquiry? Have they expressed curiosity by clicking through the resources I have curated on this platform to assist their learning? Or what tools and resources students spent little to no time with that can help me as I prepare to improve for future classes.

The counter – arguments made during our discussion were new to me, I was unaware until that moment how these tools are monetized, nor had I given much thought to the uninformed consent that students give away by engaging with an LMS. I’m excited and look forward to exploring new and different approaches to learning, as we dig in deeper into these and future areas of focus.

In our class readings, open sourced learning was applauded in Working openly on the web: a manifesto. I can see the positives in creating your own digital identity, thereby having a place where your own voice can be heard, as well as allowing our work to be a building block to others, as well as ourselves. The theory sounds very harmonious and utopian, yet the world wide web still instills a fear that shocks me to the core, as I have yet to discover confidence in my own voice through writing. Or perhaps, there was once I time I learned like Baby George in which I had confidence and joy in sharing my own opinions. Furthermore, when those expressions are unclear I can be able go back and make refinements, and the act of modification isn’t seen as a weakness for not getting it picture-perfect the first time. That even after falling down many times, as Baby George does, I could get back up with a smile and try again; learning and progressing each time.

Dr. Wesch goes on in his Ted Talk to speak to the approaches he has taken to instill positive motivators for students, as well as himself, to learn and engage in the classroom and beyond. Through drawing he is able to share a vulnerability so that other students can emulate that it’s better to keep on trying and through that continued effort we can discover our own empowerment that makes us heroes to those around us.

In addition to thinking about what leads to real learning for the students that and ways we can use networked learning to create that environment, I can also take part in that discovery. As I am vulnerable in writing this blog, however, only by continuing to write will I feel more confident in how my thoughts are articulated through doing it.


*Please note this blog has been created to fulfill a course requirement for GRAD 5114 Contemporary Pedagogy this Spring 2019 at Virginia Tech.

Posted in Contemporary Pedagogy | 3 Comments

What’s trending: Digital strategies in the arts

In this robust digital age, changes occur quickly. A foolproof marketing strategy two years ago may lead you to disaster today.  Unless you’ve been living in a cave content marketing is not a new phrase in your vocabulary, neither is data analysis. Similarly, for those strategies that have become tent poles in marketing plans, there are those that have gone the way of the dodo such as auto-blogging or QR codes.

When it seems that there is always a new marketing strategy gaining popularity, how do arts marketers decipher which approach is the best fit when investing resources?  Which of these emerging strategies are fads and which will be lasting trends?

Seth Godin describes trends as gaining “power over time, because it’s not merely part of a moment, it’s a tool, a connector that will become more valuable as other people commit to engaging in it.” Whereas fads simply fade out of the moment. Godin does note that when a fad fades we are able to truly understand the trend underneath.

Trend analyst Faith Popcorn recommends thinking of trends as a kind of database about consumers’ moods that can be tapped to help formulate marketing plans. For example, as individuals crave leisure time filled with productivity creating a marketing plan that embodies an experience is advantageous.

In Forbes article 7 Marketing Trends To Budget For In 2019 notes trends occurring in the for-profit business sector: it’s imperative that we in the arts industry keep abreast of what is trending not only in our nonprofit field but also in the commercial sector. Primarily, content marketing remains a key driver of engagement. Additionally topping the list of current trends are chatbots for customer relations, tactics for personalization, as well as focusing on an organization’s authentic values.

One trend we know isn’t going away any time soon is digital marketing. Increasingly, studies have shown that smartphone and tablet use is on the rise. According to the Pew Research Center:

  • 64% of American adults own a smartphone.
  • ​90% of American adults own a cell phone
  • 32% of American adults own an e-reader
  • 42% of American adults own a tablet computer

Recently commercial marketing budgets have shifted as well, with more money allocated towards digital advertisements than traditional counterparts such as print, radio, and television advertisements. Conversely, Capacity Interactive’s recent Arts Industry Digital Marketing Benchmark Study reports that most “30% of paid media was dedicated to digital and 70% was dedicated to non-digital media.”  Why the divide? Is it because our audiences aren’t online?

In looking to the Performing Arts Ticket Buyer Media Usage Study it reveals audiences are heavily relying on digital platforms to seek out information.

Source: WolfBrown

Perhaps, a more telling reason the arts industry has yet to increase investments into digital marketing is because we still aren’t prioritizing our patrons in the decision making process.  Capacity Interactive’s recent study asked organizations how they were approaching website design. Not surprisingly, arts organizations reported that the overall focus in designing new websites is meeting the organization’s internal needs. The majority of arts organizations have  yet to move to a patron-focused, data-informed approach to marketing. In fact, only 25% of survey respondents prioritized data- analytics when redesigning their websites. Cause Inspired Media’s chief operations officer, Sean Kerr, advises:

“The transition to digital isn’t so much a hard switch as it is an ongoing reevaluation. At every stage and in every project you need to understand where your audience is, how they engage now, and what you can do that matters to them.”

When looking at the broader marketing sector, recent research, shows that 73 percent of marketers say they use their website analytics to research their audience, but only 42 percent say they use actual audience conversations.  Currently, we are missing an opportunity to better our patron relationships. If marketers want to close that gap, they might want to look into chatbots.

For information regarding how to build your very own chatbot I recommend Ben Beck’s article on How to Build Your Own Facebook Chatbot in About 10 Minutes.

In addition to answering our patrons inquiries before they visit, chatbots can also be used in museums and galleries as patrons are able to have an immersive experience that has surpassed the analog atmosphere. “Bots can expand one’s ability to understand one’s surrounding reality and the world.”

By assisting in answering questions and contact with the work, chatbots can generate interest in the art itself. Recently, Akron Art Museum launched their chatbot museum tour guide, “Dot”. Dotleads a “choose your own adventure” style tour of the museum’s permanent collection, allowing visitors to choose what they are interested in seeing next. Even though chatbots have been around since the late 1960s, it seems our technology keeps getting better at ways we can create a personalized experience for our audiences.

In order to stay open to new ideas and trends, we need to develop marketing plans that are flexible, adaptable, and versatile. Our digital landscape keeps changing and we need to be ready to embrace the trends. By researching our audiences moods, staying abreast of technologies, and allocating budgets effectively we can ring in the new year with successful strategies for our organizations.

Posted in Arts Leadership | 2 Comments

Marketing the audience as the hero of the story

“Our brains are insanely greedy for stories. We spend about a third of our lives daydreaming–our minds are constantly looking for distractions–and the only time we stop flitting from daydream to daydream [or look up from our mobile devices] is when we have a good story in front of us,” writes Rachel Gillett. Creating stories to capture an audience’s attention is a concept that has been gaining traction in the marketing landscape for over a decade. Yet, where do great stories come from? What attributes make a story compelling?

Literary scholar, Joseph Campbell set out on a mission to explore these questions and created concept of the Monomyth, or the Hero’s Journey.

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We can see Campbell’s Hero’s Journey exemplified in the stories of Harry Potter, The Incredibles, Star Wars, and the myths found in the Arthurian Legends.

Dating back to the Greeks we see stories of heroes told on the theatrical stage.  The characters on stage encounter challenges, and we the audience are able to invest in their success and create a bond with the hero’s story on the stage.  By exploring the twelve steps expressed in Campbell’s Hero’s Journey Model, arts marketers can apply these same methods to the audience. Thereby empowering the audience to become the heroes of the organization’s stories.

STEP ONE. Ordinary World

The hero is seen going about her everyday, normal routine in the ordinary world.

It’s essential to research the ordinary world of our hero, what are her likes, dislikes, values and beliefs. No one enjoys hearing someone talk only about themselves, so how can we engage and talk to the hero without knowing something about her? This is where collecting data can be incredibly advantageous, whether we use a good, old fashioned spreadsheet or a robust Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, such as Sprout Social. Through research, we discover our hero’s behavior patterns and the social trends they respond to, and then use this information to formulate a marketing strategy that finds them where they already feel the most comfortable.

STEP TWO. Call to Adventure

Our hero is shown a unique idea that disrupts the balance of the ordinary world.

In the words of author, and motivational speaker Simon Sinek, “people don’t buy what  do; they buy why you do it. The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.” By focusing on the what role arts marketing has in people’s lives we can foster compelling stories that speak to shared values, what your organization stands for, and why it exists. By instilling the why into a call to action we create a message that is engaging and as inspiring as the art we are creating on our stages.

STEP THREE. Refusal of the Call

Our hero may need a succession of calls before deciding to answer our call.

Drawing from Campbell’s Arthurian Knight interpretation of conquering challenges, “the dragon” that often needs to be slayed is psychological: often perceived barriers are the root-cause of why our hero may refuse our “calls to action.”

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The preference to stay home has grown over 20% in the last seven years. By creating a marketing mix we can motivate our audience hero to overcome her  fears, insecurities, and even give up the comforts of her couch to experience something new. The mix, as described in Performing Arts Management, is compiled of various sales methods that allow for the effective use of our organization’s resources to reach our hero such as printed materials, digital advertisements, publicity campaigns and social media messages.

STEP FOUR.  Meeting the Mentor.

The hero meets a mentor to gain confidence, insight, advice, training, or magical gifts to overcome initial fears and cross the threshold of the adventure.

What are ways our organizations can mentor and guide our hero through these perceived barriers? We can create authenticity by providing our hero with endorsements from those that have come before them. In Capacity Interactive’s “CI to Eye” podcast with guest Colleen Dilenschneider we learn that when an endorsement is provided by others the value of that endorsement increases 12.85%  as when compared to when an organization promotes its own work. In building our organization’s brand awareness by cultivating partnerships with influencers, collecting and sharing patron testimonials, as well as referring to critic’s positive reviews of our past events  we are able to exemplify the types of experiences we want our hero to take part in.

We must also speak on the platform that our hero is already using, as she is increasingly using digital channels to experience news and events.

Video Source: The Goldfish Problem

STEP FIVE. Crossing the Threshold

Crossing the Threshold signifies that the Hero has finally committed to the Journey.

In many stories this step in Campbell’s Hero’s Journey marks the the arrival of our hero into a new environment. For Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, it’s the moment when the tornado uproots the house and lands in the mysterious land of Oz. For our hero it’s the moment in which she arrives to our organization’s landing page to seek out making a reservation to our upcoming cultural event.

In a world when purchases are only a click or swipe of your fingerprint away, we need to create a streamlined experience for our hero when she makes reservations to attend our events. Having the ability to swiftly commit to the event values our hero’s time. We can also create a sense of familiarity by having useful information about planning your visit on our website, programming information that incorporates our hero’s language, as well as photos and bios of the performers. Virtual Tours or Seating Chart maps are also helpful so that our hero can get a sense of what we look like on the inside before stepping foot into our front door.

STEP SIX. Tests, Allies, Enemies

The hero learns the rules of her new world. During this time, she endures tests of strength of will, meets friends, and comes face to face with foes.

“If you don’t have a clear articulation of what you want your customer experience to be, how do the people who are delivering it know what to do?”
~ Colin Shaw

Oftentimes our hero may have numerous questions and inquires about visiting a new space for the first time. Before the event occurs arts marketers can share the some valuable insider information to improve our hero’s upcoming experience. For example, are there any discounts or special offers at nearby restaurants that our hero can take advantage of with proof of ticket purchase before or after the event? Or, can we provide the running time of the event, parking pointers, and any notes about what to expect in terms of climate of the space?

At a theatre I used to work for we had a very noisy AC system, so the stage and seating areas were always chilled down before the show and the system would be shut off just before the production began. Signage was posted in the Lobby to let audience know the chilly air would distill once the production commenced. By including a note to new audience members beforehand, we allowed our heroes to decide if they wanted to bring an extra layer for those few minutes before the show got underway.

STEP SEVEN. Approach

Setbacks occur, sometimes causing the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas.

WolfBrown’s audience impact study in 2007 hypothesized that  “an individual’s ‘readiness-to-receive’ a performing arts experience influences the nature and extent of impacts received.” When working front of house and box office for an extremely popular cabaret series I experienced firsthand the ways the audience would line up in a stairwell in order to check in or purchase a ticket. The production was renting the space in which the show took place, so when discussions for the next year’s show began, we knew we needed to seek out venues that had a much larger lobby thereby accommodating our audience flow.

By taking into consideration that our hero’s experience is more than just the event inside the theater itself, we infuse additional moments of audience interaction by providing complementary or supplementary products and services. For example, we sold fun merchandise and had beverage stations alongside the ticket line, efforts that increased our sales by 30% annually while simultaneously offering “more” to our hero.


The Ordeal is the central, essential, and magical stage of any journey.

The goal in this step is to inspire our hero and form a deeper connection with her through the live performance. In a conversation with Katy Brown, Associate Artistic Director of Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, she reflected on how the audience connection to the story is her prime motivation. Katy creates her own hero stories for audience members she observes in the theatre: She pictures an older gentleman with his spouse and imagines that perhaps their marriage has been on rocky ground, and they have come to the theatre hoping for a shared experience that may rekindle their relationship. There’s a moment in the show in which he looks over and sees his partner with new eyes,  – and perhaps he has the courage to reach over and hold her hand. Or there’s “Sally”, a young student who no longer has arts education in her school due to budget and curriculum cuts, and Sally is now getting the opportunity to see her very first play and it’s one about her own cultural heritage. By continually acknowledging our hero’s experience when creating the onstage story it presents an opportunity for shared connections and values to cultivate between our hero and our organization.


After surviving death, the hero earns her reward or accomplishes her goal.

Our hero needs to feel her experience was rewarding in order to choose to share her encounter with others. What elements should be measured in order to know if an experience was rewarding?

In WolfBrown’s study the focus was placed on understanding intrinsic impacts of attending live performing arts events, breaking them down into six target areas.
1) Captivation: To what degree to was our hero engrossed and absorbed in the performance.
2) Intellectual Stimulation: To what extent did the performance make our hero think or provoke questions?
3) Emotional Resonance: Did our hero have an emotional response to the performance and, if so, what was it?
4) Spiritual Value: To what extent was our hero inspired or empowered by the performance?
5) Aesthetic Growth: Was our hero exposed to a new artist’s style and what did they think of it?
6) Social Bonding:  To what extent did the performance provide a connection with our hero to the others in the audience, allow them to celebrate their own  cultural heritage or learn about cultures outside of their life experience, and left them with new insight on human relations?

The findings suggest that arts organizations should first decide what type of impacts they wish to foster with their audience (e.g., intellectual stimulation, social bonding), and then select artists, works of arts and engagement strategies that are most likely to deliver those impacts.

STEP TEN. The Road Back

The hero begins the journey back to her ordinary life.

Our hero’s insight with the touchstones of our organization can awaken and inform our organization: from the call to adventure, to the ticket purchase, to the front of house staff encounters, to the way the show left an impression on her as the final curtain came down.

What are the methods we can collect feedback beyond demographics to captivate and inspire our hero to share it with others? When done well, surveys are a valuable tool in capturing an audience’s impressions that have the ability to lead to a better understanding of our organization’s impact on our hero’s journey. HubSpot provides us with 7 Tips for Getting More Respondents to create a survey that our hero wants to take.

STEP ELEVEN. Resurrection Hero

The hero is reborn or transformed with the attributes of her ordinary self in addition to the lessons and insights from the characters that she has met along the road.

What are the ways we want to engage our hero to join us again? Using email as a communication platform continues to reign as one of the most important and accessible platforms an organization can use. According to the 2018 survey helmed by Adobe, top wishes amongst the survey takers are emails that are less promotional and more informational and emails that are personalized to the recipient’s interests.

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In Capacity Interactive’s CI to Eye podcast with guest Aubrey Bergauer, Executive Director of the California Symphony, she remarks on the ways in which the organization changed their marketing language and created specific direct call to action messages that influence our hero to keep engaging with the organization. These modifications led the Symphony to increase subscription revenue by over 70%, grow their audience size by over 70%, and an increase their contributed revenue by over 40%.

STEP TWELVE. Return with Elixir

The hero brings her knowledge or the “elixir” back to the ordinary world, where she applies it to help all who remain there.

If we think of our social media pages as the ‘elixir of knowledge’ we can provide our hero with content to share her experiences with others she encounters in the Ordinary World. Forbes provides 12 Ways To Optimize Your Posts.

“If you connect personally with your audience, the relationship is a lifelong journey.” In fact, we if dive into the stats, Forbes recorded the top 100 organizations in the world and all other businesses have found when an emphasis is placed on customer empowerment it resulted in 90% growth of customer purchase frequency as well as customers spent 60% more over time.

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In order to foster lifelong journey, Joanne Scheff and Philip Kolter write in Crisis in the Arts: The Marketing Response—  “The essence of art is its communication with the audience member.” It’s vital for us to keep in mind that the hero’s journey is cyclical, it does not have a start and stopping point.  Our journey with our audience is one that must continue to be a source of commitment to the relationships we are developing and to value the strength in the those partnerships so that our arts programming can thrive.

Posted in Arts Leadership | 2 Comments